A Napa homeowner who repeatedly ignored a court order to stop operating an unpermitted vacation rental was sentenced to three years of probation, a $602 fine and credit for three days served in county jail for his behavior.
Goya “Sean” Sheen, the owner of 3366 Linda Mesa Way in Browns Valley, pleaded no contest in criminal court on Wednesday to disobeying a civil court order and two counts of creating a public nuisance.
In exchange for that no contest plea, other counts of the same criminal charges against Sheen were dismissed.
“The criminal case was resolved reasonably,” said Charles Applegate, the attorney representing Sheen in this criminal case.
This doesn’t mean Sheen’s trouble with his home are over. In a civil case filed by the city of Napa regarding the same unpermitted vacation rental, Sheen has been ordered to pay $204,670 in penalties, unpaid taxes, late penalties, attorney fees and interest.
“This is the first case of this nature we have prosecuted criminally,” said Napa Deputy District Attorney Bridget Stewart. The county decided to pursue the case “because it was so egregious,” she said.
“He wasn’t complying” with the order to stop hosting an unpermitted vacation rental, she said.
Other parameters of the criminal case agreement include that Sheen can have roommates, as long as they are month-to-month tenants or longer.
More notably, as a condition of probation, Sheen’s residence can be searched without a warrant or probable cause.
The $602 fine in the criminal case may seem low, but “given the amount of fines imposed in the civil case, I was comfortable going forward with the minimum fines in the criminal matter,” said Deputy DA Stewart.
“The important thing is that he’s prohibited from any short-term rentals, and law enforcement is permitted to search his residence,” she said.
Sheen did not attend the court hearing on Wednesday.
Applegate acknowledged that his client “was doing something that was against the law. But levying someone hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines is unconscionable,” especially when he had not yet secured legal representation at the time, said the attorney, referring to the civil case against Applegate. Applegate does not represent Sheen in the civil case.
“The city is being a bully in the civil case,” said Applegate.
“Mr. Sheen was directly informed of the penalties a year ago, and was directed to cease unlawful rentals,” said David C. Jones, assistant city attorney.
“He refused, and continued in the unlawful conduct despite administrative action, a lawsuit, and a civil injunction issued by the Superior Court.
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“This was some spectacularly different behavior” by Sheen, Jones said.
Jones said the city is looking at how it can collect the six-figure judgment from Sheen.
“We’re figuring out whether there may be cash that we can try to enforce against,” said Jones. The city may have to wait until Sheen sells the home to collect, he said.
On Feb. 15, the home was listed for sale for $898,900. As of early April, the listing does not appear to be active. No record of a sale has been recently recorded at the county recorder’s office.
Sheen’s civil attorney, Ryan Thomas, said he is new to the case and that he and his client “are considering our options.”
“I believe there are potentially numerous individuals who are operating in the city of Napa without a vacation rental permit,” said Thomas. “I do believe he’s been singled out in terms of the city’s pursuit of this from a civil side.”
In December, the Napa County District Attorney’s Office filed criminal charges against Sheen.
Sheen had been charged with dozens of misdemeanor counts including failure to pay transient occupancy tax, failure to register a hotel/vacation rental, disobeying a court order and creating a public nuisance.
Each one of the counts carried a maximum six-month jail sentence and $1,000 fine.
In October, Napa County Superior Court Judge Diane Price ordered Sheen to stop operating an unpermitted short-term vacation home. That order came after months of citations from the city’s code enforcement officers.
Since at least April 2016, Sheen had advertised the home for rent on sites such as VRBO and Airbnb for as much as $2,550 a night. The home did not have a city vacation rental permit.
Neighbors had complained for months about a steady flow of overnight visitors, noise and traffic at the single- family home.
The city continued to issue citations with fines of $1,090.50 per day for unpermitted lodging and food service activities.
In an affidavit, neighbor Bruce Chinberg said that due to the vacation rental, conditions on the street had become “intolerable.”
At one point, Sheen reportedly let multiple rabbits loose in the neighborhood. He also placed a cage with live chickens on top of his car and parked it on the street by the home. Later, Sheen installed signs around the property taunting neighbors who he claimed were complaining about his overnight guests. Those signs have since been removed.
When asked about his wishes for his client, Applegate said, “I hope he’s able to find a property where he can run a B&B. He really likes it and he’s good at it.”